Swift says goodbye to five employees
WORTHINGTON -- As most businesses will say, finding good, quality employees who want to come to work every day is like finding a rare jewel. Once you get them, you want to keep them.
Such is the case at Swift & Co., in Worthington, which is saying good-bye to five employees who have worked a combined 200 years in the meat-packing business. All five got their start when the company was owned by Armour, and stayed on through ownership changes from Swift Independent to Monfort Pork and finally Swift & Co.
When Marlene Chase left her job as a shoe saleswoman and bookkeeper for a Sioux City, Iowa, shoe store, she did so for a pay increase within the payroll department of Sioux City Dressed Pork. Her starting wage on April 17, 1960, was 55 cents per hour.
Chase stayed with the Sioux City-based company through ownership changes to Iowa Beef Processors and Armour before the facility closed in 1979. At that time, she transferred to the Armour plant in Worthington.
Throughout her 46 years of accounting work within the packing house business, Chase said she's experienced all aspects of office work. Since moving to Worthington, however, she worked in the hog procurement aspect of accounting, paying producers for all of the hogs that were processed at the local plant.
"When I started out, (hogs) were going for $11 to $12 per hundredweight for the dressed carcass," said Chase, adding that the company no longer sells dressed carcasses.
"The carcasses were hung on hooks in trailers when I started and shipped out that way," she said. "They went to big plants where they were cut up and the ham and bacon were cured. They probably did what we do (at Swift) now."
Chase said she enjoyed her job and her relocation to Worthington.
"I liked being in a smaller town, it was much more friendly," she said.
That friendly attitude carried through to the job as well.
"It's like a second family," she said. "Basically it was a good place to work. I wouldn't have stayed with them 46 years if I hadn't thought so."
Chase officially retired on March 3, and the next day left for Omaha, Neb., to fly out to Arizona. She plans to do a lot more traveling in the months and years ahead, as well as crochet prayer shawls for church.
"I picked up some yarn in Omaha," she said.
Patrick Baumgartner went to work for Armour one day after the plant opened in September 1964, getting his start in the cold pack division. At the time, the new plant was the "best paying job in the area," he said.
Over the years, he considered those he worked alongside to be part of his extended family, and it will be those relationships that he'll miss in retirement.
Baumgartner turned in his hard hat as superintendent of the cut and trim departments on March 1, completing 41½ years in pork processing.
His career with Swift experienced a number of changes, both in the departments and the plants in which he worked. He began with Armour in Worthington, and then transferred to Armour's plant in St. Joseph, Mo. He would later work for Iowa Pork Industries in St. Paul and in Mitchell, S.D., before moving to Springfield, Ohio, to work with Springfield Foods. In 1986, he returned to Worthington and Swift Independent, but was off again in 1990 to serve as plant manager of a Swift plant in Marshalltown, Iowa. He came to Swift & Co. in Worthington in 1994.
In his years in Worthington, Baumgartner said he has seen the plant grow to about 2,000 employees -- four or five times what it was back in the 1960s. He's also seen a lot of hog confinement operations crop up on the southwest Minnesota landscape.
"Most of our hogs are contracted (today)," he said. "Forty years ago, everybody could sell a hog to Armour, and now it's kind of limited. We buy a good quality product and we put out a good, quality product."
Working in the meat industry has allowed Baumgartner to raise a family, including eight children and 22 grandkids. In retirement, he plans to spend more time with them, do woodwork, fish and golf.
Still, he admits, it will take time to get used to retirement.
"You can't imagine the experience of not having to go anyplace when you get up in the morning," he said. Looking back on the past 40-plus years, he added, "I guess to start over, I probably would do it again."
When Darwin Sieve went to work at the pork processing plant in 1966, he anticipated it would last two or three years -- long enough to earn some money and make up for a few tough years of farming.
On Feb. 27, Sieve finally walked out of the plant's doors knowing he wouldn't be coming back -- at least not to work. He retired after 39½ years with the company.
During those years, Sieve experienced all aspects of the plant, beginning his career on the kill floor, then moving on to the cut floor and loin boning departments. He retired as superintendent of the cold side processing -- a job he performed for a decade.
"In 1966, we were just a small plant," recalled Sieve of his early days with the pork processing facility. When he started with Armour, they slaughtered about 3,500 head of hogs per day. That compares to the 16,500 to 18,000 head that are now being processed daily.
"The hogs are leaner and larger today," he added. The average and ideal size of hogs processed has changed from 220 pounds in the 1960s to 265 pounds today.
Processing those pigs has also changed considerably. Meat processing today is more consumer-friendly with boneless hams and loins, and enhanced, flavor-filled pork cuts among the most popular of Swift products.
"We went from paper wrap to today, when we cry-o-vac everything for shelf life," said Sieve. The new form of packaging keeps meat fresher longer, allowing it to be sold fresh to consumers halfway around the world.
Sieve enjoyed working at Swift and said every day was different and challenging.
"They were all good years," he said. "It was a good living and a good life. There was a lot of opportunities, and I'm satisfied with all of my accomplishments."
Today, Sieve said his only challenge is finding something to do with the 10 to 12 hours a day that he's home.
"I'm working on the house now, but it will be easier when golf and fishing starts," he said.
Virgil Reed began at Armour in October 1967 after leaving his job with Scheppmann and Sons of Okabena, for whom he worked burying telephone cables.
"The first baby had come along and it was real hard to get back in that pickup and take off for a week at a time," he said of his career change. "I decided I wanted to be home every night."
For the past 38½ years, Reed has worked on the kill floor at Swift, taking on roles as supervisor, operations manager and finally superintendent in 1991. He oversees about 200 employees today, but plans to retire on April 21.
Reed talked of the changes not only on the production side of the business, but also of the workforce changes he's witnessed.
"The people that used to work there in the 1960s wanted to work there and didn't want to leave the area," he said. "Today, the work is harder and faster, and there's such an influx of people that come and go.
"It's getting better though, people are deciding that this is where they want to be, they're settling down and buying houses," Reed added. "That's good for the community."
When Reed began working for Armour, they ran about 450 hogs through the plant in an hour, and cut back to about 390 during slack times of the year.
"There isn't no slack time anymore," he said. "Those days are gone."
Reed said Swift has been good to his family, and he will miss the employees after he leaves next month. Though his wife, Donna, has a couple more years left to work, Reed said they plan to take it easy in retirement.
"We'll do some camping, fishing and golfing, and spending time with the grandkids," he said.
Reed, who also has a karaoke business, said he will try to do more of that in retirement as well.
Cliff Deslauriers has commuted from his home in Currie to the Worthington pork processing facility for 36 years. Having recently reached age 65, he said it's time to retire from his post as rendering supervisor. His last day at the plant will be May 19.
Like Sieve, Deslauriers took a job with Armour because it paid better than farming.
"I was working on the farm, making $175 a month, and I started at Armour's at $2.70 an hour," he said. "It was just a big increase in pay, it had benefits and everything."
Deslauriers continued farming for his mother for a few years and also operated a bait shop for 12 years, all while working full-time for Armour.
"It was a good, steady job," he said of the local company. "I was able to be home every night with the family -- that was the kind of life I wanted."
During his 16 years in the rendering department, Deslauriers saw many changes -- most in automation.
"Back (in the 1970s), we used carts -- we never had a skid-loader to clean up messes," he said. "Everything was done with a shovel and wheelbarrow.
"It's easier now than it was 30 years ago," he added.
Deslauriers plans to spend his retirement doing the things he enjoys -- fishing and hunting. He also plans to spend part of the summer in Alaska, visiting his son.